I hear you out there, by the water cooler, in your e-mail screeds. “Nobody does artist development anymore.” “Rock music isn’t exciting anymore.” Wah, wah, wah. Guess what? While you’ve been whining, good old-fashioned artist development has been going on all around you.
Welcome to Another February of Midseason Replacements, Wall-to-Wall Hoops, Arty Records and Artless Movies
Please join us as we contemplate the brilliance of the White Stripes and Kobe Bryant, the humiliation of Michael Jackson and the travails of Odd Todd, among other midwinter diversions. And for you weekend jocks, we offer a surefire way to get free in the lane.

1. Kingpin (NBC):
The Mexican drug cartel’s answer to The Sopranos—or, as Howard Stern dubbed it, The Sombreros.  Plenty of edgy shit and lotsa cocaine references, but its network origins mean it has to stop just this side of the darkness of its gangland predecessor. Actually, it’s closer to Dynasty or Dallas than it is to HBO’s family saga, and the characters aren’t as easy to identify with, but the talented Latino actors and the moral ambiguity make it a welcome addition to the prime-time schedule. Dream On’s Brian Benben as the harried plastic surgeon in debt to the cartel is the series’ comic relief, while Twin PeaksSheryl Lee, as title character Miguel Cadena’s scheming gringo wife, adds some Anglo spice to the mix. —RT 

2. John Mayer Adores Coldplay: Here’s a preview from an interview we just conducted with the two-time Grammy nominee, which will run in the mag and on the site next week. What we found particularly cool about the following bit is (A) the remarkable clarity the 25-year-old Mayer brings to the act of assessing his own work, and (B) the insight and, in this case, the enthusiasm, he brings to assessing the work of his peers. Check it out: “Looking back on it now, I think Room for Squares might be a little bit more cerebral than a gut punch. Right now in my life, I love the gut punch—and no one does that to me like Coldplay. Coldplay is all about the gut punch. It’s an amazing album, and it’s earnest. It’s incredibly musical and incredibly important, when you think of it as a great male work of art; when you think about the sensitivity—and not to use the overblown definition of sensitivity, the ‘sensitive singer,’ but real tenderness to situations, and real introspection. It’s such an important record—it’s a man’s record in the greatest of sense. It’s a record of regret, remorse, apology, admission—it’s really important.” —BS

3. Red Dragon (Universal Home Video):  Bret Ratner’s remake of Michael Mann’s Manhunter, the first story in the Hannibal Lecter series, received mostly unfavorable comparisons to the original, though Edward Norton as the dogged FBI agent and Ralph Fiennes as his serial-killing quarry bring an intensity to the mostly Perils of Pauline plot, which co-stars Emily Watson as the blind-woman-in-distress. And while it’s hard to tell exactly where the movie is taking place at any point in time, it has a residual creepiness, thanks to Anthony Hopkins’ leering Lecter, that rescues it from the mundane, though the violence is surprisingly understated. —RT 

4. NBA at Midseason: The Lakers-Knicks game that has just ended as we bang this out stands as a microcosm of the extra-nutty 2002-2003 NBA season, especially for Kobe Bryant & Co. Played at Madison Square Garden, “the World’s Biggest Stage,” as they say, the Lakers put on a show worthy of Broadway during the first three quarters, building up a 34-point lead behind Kobe’s spectacular, can’t-miss 40-point performance, which had even die-hard Knicks fans gasping. Then L.A. exhaled, at which point the Knicks, hopelessly defeated, started raining threes, suddenly taking control of the very zone Kobe had been in. They made up 31 points in the fourth quarter, tantalizing their fans, as is their wont, before Kobe restored order. The point is, this wacky game demonstrated how small a difference there is between supreme confidence and demoralization, between turning it on and letting up and, ultimately, between winning and losing. This force field is what makes pro hoops so compelling (assuming you’re into this sort of thing). As we go into the All-Star break (Shaq will be the West’s backup center, behind high-profile [literally] Houston rookie Yao Ming, in Sunday’s game on TNT), the Lakers are above .500 for the first time this season, and on a five-game winning streak in which Kobe has averaged 40 (he wound up with 46 against the Knicks). L.A. may be red-hot, but they’re not as hot as Portland, and no hotter than San Antonio, as division-leading Sacramento cools off and Dallas hangs on. That makes the West a scintillating five-way race—and we haven’t even considered the Kevin Garnett-led sleeper Timberwolves. Oh, yeah, there is also an Eastern Conference. —BS  

5. Randy Pays Some Bills: It’s one thing for a Hall of Fame artist to license a classic song for a TV spot, it’s something else entirely for an artist of stature to overtly shill for a product. Have you caught the new series of commercials in which the great Randy Newman, clearly commissioned to work up a little ditty in the manner of “I Love L.A.,” warbles, “If you haven’t looked at a Ford lately/Look again.”  In his defense, maybe the notion of writing a love song to a car holds a certain irony for him—maybe. On the other hand, if Newman’s move is preemptive, keeping the ad agency guys away from such treasures as “Marie” and “Sail Away,” I can live with that. —BS

6. Chicago (Miramax): Not anywhere near as over-the-top as Moulin Rouge, this odds-on favorite for Oscar glory delivers on all levels with an MTV-influenced, quick-moving, marvelously edited series of set-pieces, highlighted by Renee Zellweger’s note-perfect rendition of the duplicitous murderess Roxie Hart. Catherine Zeta-Jones’ opening “And All That Jazz” is a Fosse-inspired classic, Queen Latifah’s “When You’re Good to Mama” is a showstopper, Richard Gere’s “All I Care About” proves him a nifty song-and-dance man and John C. Reilly employs his Irish tenor to great effect in the sad-eyed “Mister Cellophane.” Give director Rob Marshall and screenwriter Bill Condon the credit. They’ve single-handedly revived the art of the Broadway musical for the MTV generation. —RT 

7. The Further Adventures of Odd Todd: He’s been out of “work” for a couple of years now, but Odd Todd (aka Todd Rosenberg) has built himself a cottage industry via his offbeat Flash cartoons detailing the anxieties and (in)activities of one dot-com casualty. Beginning with the hilarious instant classic “Laid Off: A day in the Life,” which detailed the throes of the freshly unemployed, OT has added some truly crackpot episodes and games, and his strangely addictive bizarro world now includes such off-the-wall supporting characters as Meps and Up Elves. And best of all, he’s gotten people and businesses far and wide to send him free stuff in exchange for becoming the “official” this or that of the Odd Todd site. He’s even got a book deal: The Odd Todd Handbook: Hard Times, Soft Couch will be out on Warner Books in April. Guess there’s good mon-ay in getting shitcanned after all. —JO

8. Shirts and Skins: Historians tell us that the original Olympians in ancient Greece performed their athletic feats in the raw. So how would that approach play in early 21st century America? A commercial for the Hermosa Beach branch of the YMCA imagines just such a scenario, applied to a pick-up basketball game, and all we can say about it is ick. Thanks to Jeff Jampol (who we can assure you is not sexually confused) for hipping us to the URL. —BS

9. Interpol, Turn On the Bright Lights (Matador): The buzz is growing on these New Yorkers who are reviving the arty post-punk of such ’80s standbys as Joy Division and the Smiths. After breaking through in the U.K. and Europe, the foursome—vocalist/guitarist Paul Banks, guitarist Daniel Kessler, drummer Sam Fogarino and bassist Carlos De—have parlayed TV performances on Letterman and Carson Daly, along with critical raves in Rolling Stone and Spin, into a burgeoning stateside following. The album has sold well into the six figures, with airplay just starting to kick in. The first single, “PDA,” defines the approach, its deadpan vocals and an angular, chiming guitar sound at once reminiscent of the New Wave’s melodic moodiness and the current garage-rock revival. —RT

10. Like Hitting the Side of a Barn: Michael Jackson claims he felt “betrayed” by the makers of the British-produced documentary that aired Thursday night on ABC, which will draw what I assume will be huge ratings, as tens of millions performed the televiewing equivalent of slowing down for a traffic accident. Jacko’s decision to bare his soul to the cameras was hardly a shrewd career move (unless he wanted to demonstrate how big a draw he is, for all the wrong reasons); you’ve gotta wonder what he was thinking. Actually, you’ve always gotta wonder what he was thinking. So maybe he was asking for it, but the media are gang-tackling this pathetic creature, and he’s such a ridiculously easy target for derision. As Trakin notes, this dude has morphed into a modern-day Elephant Man. Someday, perhaps, we’ll remember that his talent was at least as noteworthy as his weirdness. —BS   

White Stripes, Elephant (V2): I hear you out there, by the water cooler, in the office doorway, in your e-mail screeds and “What’s Wrong With the Biz” conference panels. “Nobody does artist development anymore.” “Rock music isn’t exciting anymore.”

Wah, wah, wah. Guess what? While you’ve been whining, good old-fashioned artist development has been going on all around you. Case in point: V2, who had the good sense not only to shell out the significant cabbage required to sign White Stripes, but also to let them make the kinds of records they need to make. The Detroit duo’s new opus, Elephant, also happens to be the kind of record we need to hear.

Recorded in two weeks in a studio full of vintage gear (Jack and Meg White loathe digital equipment with a fundamentalist’s ire), Elephant rarely departs from the stripped-down intensity of the pair’s breakthrough, White Blood Cells. It’s just better. Jack White’s vocals and fretwork are bolder, and the extra touches (baroque keyboard parts, a guest vocal by indie queen Holly Golightly and even something that sounds like bass) are genius. What most distinguishes Elephant, for me, is that the rough and the smooth go together better than ever. Blazing rants like “Seven Nation Army,” “The Hardest Button to Button,” “There’s No Home for You Here” (in which stacked-harmony “ahs” go head-to-head with squalling feedback), “Little Acorn” and the garage-punk magnificence of “Hypnotise” segue beautifully into such charming, melodic fare as “You’ve Got Her in Your Pocket” and my favorite, “I Want to Be the Boy...” In the latter, White wonders how to win the approval of his beloved’s mom.

But there’s more—a lot more. The towering, raw blues “Ball and Biscuit” is pure sex. White’s reworking of “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” (popularized by Dusty Springfield, but I’m betting Jackie first heard Elvis Costello & the Attractions rip through it on Stiffs Live) is the brashest Bacharach cover since Love’s “Little Red Book.” “The Air Near My Fingers” balances crunch and bounce with a masterly grace. Closer “It’s True That We Love One Another” is a cornpone hillbilly trio (featuring Golightly and a very off-key but attitude-heavy vocal from Meg) that just happens to be insanely catchy.

Advances of the new album have been distributed on double vinyl LPs—a diabolically simple way of at least slowing, if not diminishing, piracy (it takes a bit of work to burn a CD and/or rip MP3 files from vinyl), and getting journos away from their computers for a minute. As a result, those of you without turntables (or overwhelmed with a giant listening stack) may not have gotten to it yet. I recommend giving those puppies a spin ASAP.

The Stripes are so much better than the other garage-revival bands they routinely get lumped in with that’s it’s almost comical, and I’m prepared to back up my words. Oh, you don’t agree? Let’s settle this outside. Right now, man. Simon Glickman

Johnny Marr & the Healers, Boomslang (iMusic/ArtistDirect):
Along with U2’s The Edge, ex-Smiths co-founder Johnny Marr is one of the two most influential guitarists of the post-punk ’80s wave. After support stints with The The and Electronic (featuring New Order’s Bernard Sumner), Morrissey’s onetime partner launches his solo career with Kula Shakur bassist Alonza Bevan and Ringo’s drummer son Zak Starkey with a suitably psychedelic, fuzz-toned “The Last Ride.” The shimmering Smiths influences on “Down on the Corner” and “Need It” come without the whiney melodrama, while Marr bares his Manchester techno roots in the trippy “You Are Magic.” “Bangin’ On” ends with the sound of a single acoustic guitar string, culminating its postmodern rock textures with a nod to the magic of ’60s pop. Roy Trakin 

Wes Cunningham, Pollyanna (Pentavarit): With so many present-day purveyors of pure pop studiously aping their idols, from the Beach Boys to Jellyfish, it’s refreshing to come across an artist who employs the classic pop moves in the service of personal expression. On his self-made second album (following a promising 1998 debut on WB), Cunningham creates what amounts to a song cycle on the stages of romantic love, from the giddy highs (single “Good Good Feeling”) to the crushing lows (hidden track “You Kill the Things You Love”). Throughout, the heady Texan, who now lives in L.A., displays commensurate gifts for gilded melody and clearly stated, relatable lyrics in which sincerity and irony intermingle. Pollyanna nimbly demonstrates that normal guys can be as compelling as tortured souls.
Bud Scoppa

The All-American Rejects, The All-American Rejects (DreamWorks): Stillwater, Okla.’s Tyson Ritter and Nick Wheeler come off sounding like power-pop superheroes on this rollicking, emo-tinged display of songwriting muscle—not bad for a duo whose combined age is still under 40. The pair have said their writing method puts melody first, and every track of their debut proves the theory: Single “Swing Swing” will have you in its hooky grasp from the first chorus, while gems like “One More Sad Song,” “Why Worry” and “Happy Endings” render escape impossible. Broken hearts and longing are big themes here, but hope is the Rejects’ secret weapon—and that springs most readily from a righteous melody set to a rocking beat. Jon O’Hara

You are a pervert. It only remains to be seen what kind of pervert you are. Discreet connoisseur of “erotic” literature? Drooling devotee of “gonzo” tapes? Master/mistress of one-handed Web surfing? Or perhaps you’re that most repulsive of deviants, the puritan—smugly disparaging the sexual adventures of others for your own lurid satisfaction. Whatever category defines you, you’ll no doubt have a ball (in however many senses of the word you care to deploy) perusing the new Horny? Los Angeles and Horny? San Francisco guides from Really Great Books. Both subtitled A Sexy, Steamy, Downright Sleazy Handbook to the City, these travel guides for the libidinal offer contact info and unflinching reviews of strip clubs, nude beaches, dungeons, meat-market bars, online misbehavior, lingerie stores and fetish-toy emporia. The S.F. edition, edited by Cara Bruce and Charlie Amter, is heavy on resources for the bondage-and-discipline set, but also has info for fans of classic burlesque, swingers and pretty everything else you might imagine (the press release’s reference to the city’s “exploding fetish scene” conjures up some surreal ballistics). There’s even a listing of health clinics at the back, in case your antics go awry. The L.A. volume, overseen by Jessica Hundley and Jon Alain Guzik, chronicles all the sorts of places you’d expect, not to mention getting into annual events like the Fetish Ball. RGB promises future editions for Miami, New Orleans and Las Vegas; you’d think the latter edition would be thicker than the city phone book. For more info, you sick puppy, email—well, who else? Brian Gross, of course!

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (Paramount)
Premise: A ladies man bets his friend he can stay in a relationship for more than 10 days, ehile the woman he picks tries to get rid of him by using the “rules” from how to lose a guy in the same amount of time.
Stars: Kate Hudson, Matthew McConaughey, Adam Goldberg
Amiable hack Donald Petrie (Mystic Pizza, Miss Congeniality, Grumpy Old Men), whose daughter once played with mine on a soccer team. Screenplay rewrite by Igby Goes Down director Burt Steers.
Thumbs Up: Kate Hudson is, not surprisingly, turning into a young Goldie Hawn, and her breasts look lovely, though Scoppa says she’ll always be Penny Lane to him.
Thumbs Down: You have to sit through the McConaughey parts.
Soundtrack: Virgin Records album incudes Keith Urban’s hit, “Sombody Like You,” and tracks from Luce, Chantal Kreviazuk, George Thorogood, Al Green, Gin Blossoms, Carly Simon, Sixpence None the Richer, Fisher and the Beu Sisters.
Website: www.howtoloseaguymovie.com offers story synopsis, cast and production information, photo gallery, clips and downloads, a “he says, she says” poll, “tips from Andie” and a place to register for news and site updates.

Shanghai Knights (Touchstone Pictures)
Premise: An odd couple sequel to Shanghai Noon set in turn-of-the-century London, with Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson looking for revenge and uncovering a worldwide conspiracy to overthrow the Chinese and British empires after Chinese rebels kill Chan’s sister. 
Stars: Chan, Wilson.
Director: David Dobkin (’98’s Clay Pigeons)
Thumbs Up: Reliable ducks-out-of-water comedy/adventure.
Thumbs Down: Did we really need a sequel to the first movie?
Soundtrack: Hollywood Records soundtrack includes a potpourri of ’60s Brit-pop, including the Kinks, Dave Clark 5, Roger Miller, the Yardbirds, the Who, Harry Nilsson, the Faces, the Zombies, New Vaudeville Band, Georgie Fame and Gene Kelly.
Website: studio.go.com/movies/shanghaiknights/ offers a Shanghai Showdown game, plot synopsis, production notes, Chan’s diaries, cast and crew bios, trailers, screensavers, desktop, postcards, Aim icons and stills.

Deliver Us From Eva (Focus)
Premise: Three young African-American men pay a “ladies man” $5,000 to romance their perfectionist sister-in-law so they can rid themselves of her constant meddling.
Stars: LL Cool J plays the “ladies man,” with Gabrielle Union, Johnny Gill, Yuri Brown, Meagan Good, Mel Jackson.
Director: Gary Hardwick, who also penned the screenplay (Brothers)
Thumbs Up: Gabrielle Union is best-known for playing the leader of the black cheerleader squad in Bring It On.
Thumbs Down:
LL Cool J is a lover and a rapper, not an actor.
Soundtrack: Hollywood Records album features tracks from LL Cool J & Amerie, Usher, Mary J. Blige, Terry Dexter, 3LW, Element, Calvin Richardson, Ginuwine, En Vogue, Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell, Steve Wonder, Marcus Miller and K-Ci & JoJo.
Deliverusfromevamovie.com includes Eva’s Guide to Dating, a Pick-Up Line Generator, Ray’s Playa’s Guide, performer and crew bios, story synopsis, production information, clips/trailer, gallery, soundtrack information, e-cards, wallpaper, a L’Eggs and Footaction sweepstakes. —RT   

DENISE’S WEAKEND COCKTAIL: Last week I needed a drink, this week I need a vacation. February is already a better month than last, but I’m exhausted from moving, mixed with a little too much socializing this week. I’ve been bonding with my new roommate over cocktails and men—life is good. While participating in all of this reveling, I discovered what separates the boys from the men—the size of their most prized possession…their wallets. As soon as I typed that line, I could hear allegations of gold-digging bellowing from the mouths of my male counterparts. Let the witch-hunt begin. My cocktail of the week is dedicated to all of my fellow witches out there who just want a few good men. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.

Gold Digger Martini
1 oz. Finlandia Pineapple vodka—I didn’t even know that existed—Yummy!
oz. Cointreau
Shake, strain and serve in a martini glass

Before I’m shackled and burned at stake, let me explain. I’m very independent and have no problem paying my own way, but I believe that if a guy asks me out then he shouldn’t assume we’re going Dutch. Maybe it’s me who shouldn’t assume that chivalry and courting a woman still exists, but come on. They want us to put out immediately, so they should put out too—the Benjamins. This happened to me recently. A guy asked me out for dinner and a movie, paid for the movie then went and got himself something to drink without a mention as to if I wanted anything. I thought that was odd, but it didn’t hit me until dinner when he only pulled enough dough out of his wallet to pay for his grub, nor did he offer up any cash for the parking garage even though I drove. I took a poll of my male and female friends, and all of them agreed that he asked—therefore he should pay, and it was plain rude not to ask the person you’re with if they need anything when you get yourself a beverage. And don’t get me wrong—this works both ways. If I ask, then I should be prepared to pay—although he will get bonus points for at least offering. So I discovered the problem with that guy is that’s he’s still a boy—a 30-year boy. Since this was my first real dating experience since I made a pledge to re-enter the “scene,” I was discouraged as to what the future held for me. Thankfully, I was reminded this week how real men behave. They’ll slap down that platinum Visa before you can even grab for your purse—no matter who asked or how much you insist on contributing. It’s not about the money. Instead, it’s about knowing how to treat a woman.

De’s LA bar pick of the week: I’m officially a Westsider and have found my newest favorite place. I love small, low-key type of places, and that’s exactly what Chez Jay in Santa Monica (Ocean Blvd.) is—mellow and filled with people that are cool not trying to be cool. This casual joint is tiny and always packed. You’ll have to get there early to covet a barstool, but not to worry, there are plenty of tables and booths for you and your cohorts to hang out. Sawdust on the floor adds to the eclectic atmosphere, and the food rocks! This place has been around for a while and many a well-known celebrity calls it home away from home. I spotted Mrs. Kevin Bacon (Kyra Sedwick) on the night of my visit). This is definitely a place for locals, no “Hollywood” types allowed.

De’s diss of the week: I knew I couldn’t hang in much longer without one place that pissed me off. I was started to getting worried that I might never have another diss, until I arrived at the uber-trendy Les Deux Cafes in Hollywood. This place claims to be the place to go if you’re hip, trendy and want to be seen. Well, you will definitely be seen…standing by the bar for an hour and a half waiting for your table. Or, you’ll be seen sitting at your table still without water or wine after your entire, which might be charred, arrives. You’ll be lucky to see a waitress or a check under $200. This place was PATHETIC! I went to digitalcities.com and checked other user reviews, only to find stories very similar to my own. The owners and managers need to get a clue, get a wait staff that know what they’re doing (and the difference between a $10 bottle of wine and an $80 bottle) and get a chef that can cook.

I’m convinced that my readers must be as brilliant and incredibly cool as I am (because they read this), so you must know some really hip places for me to check out on the Westside. Please send me your suggestions by clicking on my link below. Also, if you have a favorite bar crawl that you would like to share, send that also. Until next week—hugs & kisses. Denise Bayles

Contributors: Denise Bayles, Simon Glickman, Jon O’Hara and Roy Trakin

Edited by Bud Scoppa

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